A History of Eurovision Rule Changes
2020 has given us a Eurovision Song Contest without... well, the contest. But with all the fan votes and broadcaster replacements, more than ever we realise we actually LOVE the rules!
While we’re all fairly familiar with the main rules, the journey to the Eurovision Song Contest we all know and love has been a long-winded one since 1956, and there have been MANY a rule change from voting, to qualifying and even to who pays for what! We cover all the tiny details from 1956 to now!
National Final winners only!
Each of the seven countries participating in the first Eurovision Song Contest had to win their way through a National Final to take part.
The Three Minute Rule
One of the most iconic rules of the contest, this came into effect after Italy submitted “Corde della mia chitarra”. At a staggering 5 minutes and 9 seconds, it is the longest entry to have ever been submitted to Eurovision!
The privilege to have the contest in the winner’s country is something nobody takes for granted these days, but since the host country rule was introduced there have been six times a winning country hasn’t hosted the following year (with the United Kingdom stepping in as the replacement host nation four of those times).
It may seem strange considering how our juries now consist of nothing but music industry professionals, but this contest banned the knowledgeable composers and producers from being on the national juries of each country.
Voting Changes (1/8)
Previously, each 10 members of each national jury gave ONE point to their favourite song in the contest. They extended this to a Top 3 each, allocating 3, 2 or 1 point.
Voting Changes (2/8)
With 16 counties competing at this stage, the decision is made not only to DOUBLE the amount of jury members per country (from 10 jury members to 20), but to allow each member to vote for a Top 5 each (allocating 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 point respectively)
Voting Changes (3/8, or “We Take That Back”)
Too many jury members to organise! It is decided 10 jury members are more than enough to run the contest, and the Top 3 returns (allocating 5, 3 and 1 point).
Imagine a world where the contest NOW was only restricted to the recognised national languages of each country. That was the reality of the contest from 1966, however this rule has been enforced and lifted many times throughout the years of the competition, but was finally eradicated completely after 1999. (Since then, we have also seen a few made up languages grace the stage!)
Voting Changes (4/8, or “We Take That Back 2: Electric Boogaloo”)
Realising they need to tweak the voting system a little, they go back to their original tried and true jury voting from the 1956 contest. Sometimes the first version is the best version!
After a FOUR WAY TIE in 1969, the rules were altered to allow only one country to win the competition overall. A “sing-off” element would be added to the show, with the jury giving a show of hands to elect the winner. However this would change again later...
Voting Changes (5/8)
They try something different! Each country has two jurors (one aged over 25 and one under 25) to vote on EVERY country, giving them a rank ranging between 1-5. This meant that some countries had the ability to give out less points than others! (Imagine the bloc voting!)
Six People on Stage
One of the more iconic rules of the contest in modern times, it took 15 years before the option of more than a solo/duet became available! Six performers were allowed to be on stage at a time for each country.
Voting Changes (6/8)
And now, for something you’re familiar with. After going back to the original voting system in 1974, the current voting system with the top ten receiving points (12 points for the jury’s first place, 10 for their second place etc.) is introduced to the contest. This took 19 years of trial and error to reach the system we all know and love.
As the competition began to expand and popularise, the EBU made the decision to charge each broadcaster a section of the cost of their staging.
22 Countries MAX
With the largest competition yet, it was decided Eurovision should have a capped limit of 22 participating countries in each competition year.
After a one point difference between Switzerland’s Céline Dion and the United Kingdom’s Scott Fitzgerald for the win in 1988, the tiebreak rule was adapted to match the current voting rules of the contest. If the countries had the same amount of points, then the country that received the most 12 points would move ahead of the other and win the competition. On the occasion they had the same amount of 12’s, then they would turn to the most 10 points etc. until a winner can be determined.
Age Limit Requirements
Ahh, to be 11 and competing at the Eurovision Song Contest. The youngest winner of the contest was 13 year old Sandra Kim for Belgium in ’86, but after an 11 and 12 year old took to the competition in 1989 and MANY complaints, the EBU restricted competitors to be 16 at the time of competing.
Europe was an ever changing continent, with more countries finding their independence which meant more countries wanting to compete in the competition. Continuing to cap the amount of entrants each year, it was decided the bottom 5 of the year previous would not be invited to compete the year after. However in 1997, they altered this to the worst average scores over the previous 4 years.
The people get a voice! After a trial run with a handful of countries, the televote became the primary method of voting from the 1998 contest!
Many National Finals (San Remo, Festivali i Këngës etc.) still incorporate the live orchestra into their performances... but to save on money for the contest, the EBU made the call to have prerecorded tracks for each competing song to play behind the vocals. This also prevents human error from musicians in the orchestra.
The Big Four/Five
As the largest financial contributors to the competition, the broadcasters for the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Spain were secured an automatic place in the competition regardless of results and were exempt from relegation (and later, automatic qualifiers for the Grand Final). In 2011, Italy not only rejoined the competition, but gained a place among the Big Four qualifiers to become the Big Five. The entry fee for these countries is significantly larger to contribute to the cost of smaller countries/broadcasters entering the competition, making their entry fee smaller.
Goodbye relegation, hello semi final!
We jump from 26 countries to 36, with the automatic qualifiers into the Grand Final being the Big Four and the ten countries with the highest placings in the year previous. Out of the remaining countries, the ten highest results in the semi final advanced. With 43 countries wanting to participate in 2008, however, a second semi final was introduced to accommodate the influx and the only auto qualifiers became the Big Four.
Por que no los dos? The EBU decides to bring back the national juries and have a split vote between music professionals and the public televote to prevent issues around diaspora and bloc voting.
The window for the public televote is extended from 15 minutes in total to the beginning of the first song until the end of voting. However, in 2012 it was revoked and returned to the standard 15 minutes after all the songs had been performed.
Voting Changes (7/8)
Rather than the juries and televote ranking only their top ten, all competing songs in the semi finals and the grand final must now be ranked from first to last. The results of both are then combined to create each country’s ranking/points.
Country Participation Expansion
A rule change VERY close to our hearts, the EBU considered the possibility of allowing associate members outside of the European Broadcasting Area to participate in the contest, allowing Australia, who had broadcast the competition for 30 years, guest participation at Eurovision 2015. Initially a one-time only allowance, Australia has been invited to compete every year since and has been confirmed a place in the contest until 2023.
Voting Changes (8/8)
Rather than a country combining its televote and jury results, the contest alters the rules to have both become a separate entity; this means that each country now allocates two sets of results to the overall scores. The jury results is still revealed by a spokesperson from each country, but the televote is announced by the host of the contest from least amount of votes to highest. However in 2019, this was altered and the results of the televote are read in order of jury votes (lowest to highest)
That's it! Will these be the last of the rule changes, probably not! The Eurovision Song Cotest continually adapts and evolves, and we should expect the rule book to do the same....